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Freeing schools from the Left's wretched social determinism

JohnbaldJohn Bald writes

Michael Gove's critics of last week gave university addresses, but one is also a teacher completing a higher degree. She posted this on the Guardian website after school yesterday:

I had a child today tell me, when I gently pulled his bag to pull him away from another child he was leaping on, that I was abusing his 'civil rights'. He then told me to 'f*** off', that he was going to get me sacked and threw his bag at me saying 'if you want my frigging planner get it yourself.' He then got his phone out saying he was going to call his Mum and tell her he'd been assaulted. This was all just on my way to the toilet. An incident like this happens every day. Sanction? A 30 minute detention. I'm waiting for the complaint from Mum to come through tomorrow, because it is never, ever her child's fault.

Her account contrasts with this, from a fellow-Guardianista who is not a teacher:

It amazes me why the majority of teachers enter the profession? From the theme of comments from teachers on here, you could think that at best they tolerate our children; in the main they see them as an inconvenience to their day! Maybe if you treated children and parents with a little respect things would improve? Gone are the days when you ruled with fear……its time to adapt!!

I'm quite sure that both points of view are genuine. The first shows who really does rule by fear in a poor school, and the inadequacy of this one's disciplinary system, including the fact that a child had a phone in school in the first place. The second is from the parent of a child who has frequently been excluded from school, and who does not see it as his or her responsibility  to ensure that the child behaves reasonably.  

As a teacher, how can you treat someone with respect who abuses, assaults and threatens you, and how are you supposed to respect a headteacher who expects you to put up with it in the name of "inclusion"?  And if the combination of the two makes it impossible for a you to work, what can you do?

The exchange originated with a survey from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, which found that 90 per cent of teachers surveyed had to deal with disruptive behaviour at some point, and that most thought the situation was getting worse, including a primary teacher from Cheshire who said:

 I have been kicked in the head, spat at, called disgusting names, told to eff off, had the classroom trashed regularly and items thrown. We accept children who are excluded from other schools so they come to us with extreme behaviour issues.

Here  is some more from the survey, including the Guardian's attempt to look on the bright side:

On the positive side, most of the disruptive behaviour facing staff was categorised as fairly low level, with 79% of staff complaining that students talked in class, did not pay attention and messed around.

Some 68% added that students were disrespectful and ignored their instructions, 55% said they had dealt with verbally aggressive students, and a fifth with a physically aggressive student. Among secondary and sixth-form students, smoking was considered a significant problem.

On most occasions challenging behaviour was deemed an irritation which disrupted class work, according to 74% of staff, but 42% revealed that they suffered stress and almost a quarter said they had lost confidence at work. Forty of those questioned said they had been physically hurt by a student.

The Association's general secretary, Dr Mary Bousted, who wrote her thesis on the ideology of English teaching, puts the blame on funding cuts in local services. The real source of the problem lies in the power structure in schools put in place under Labour, that in cases like these two leaves teachers in an impossible position, and that Michael Gove and his colleagues are quite rightly setting out to dismantle.

Dr Bousted used her conference speech yesterday to "castigate" Michael Gove  for supposedly  ignoring evidence and experts and attacking teachers . Her fury went down well with her members, but is in fact a mask for an ideological, Leftist view of education as determined by social class that is very close to that of the French neo-Marxist Perre Bourdieu, who invented the idea of "cultural capital", advocated discrimination against the better educated, and considered even personal taste to be determined by social class.  

To get Dr Bousted's full position, we need to add to yesterday's performance her speech last year and this piece in The Independent, in which she sets out her view that educational achievement is determined by social class.

She talks of "the educational inequality which results from poverty. "We have, she says, "schools for the elite, schools for the middle classes and schools for the working class ...Too few schools have mixed intakes where children can learn those intangible life skills of aspiration, effort and persistence from one another."

Michael Gove and Sir Michael Wilshaw were, she said, "washing their hands like Pontius Pilate of the causes of educational failure, over which they have more control than anyone else."

But is she right? Sir Michael Wilshaw showed in two schools in the East End of London that it is attitudes and not poverty that determine educational success. He established record GCSE results and followed them through -  I doubted whether it would be possible - with an astonishingly successful sixth form that smashed the glass ceiling of Oxbridge for Hackney pupils.

These results have been sustained and extended through his successor and through Ark schools. Mossbourne Community Academy attracts precisely the mixed social intake that Dr Bousted wants to see, and builds precisely the skills she wants to see.

It's particularly insulting to Sir Michael, a Catholic, to compare him to Pontius Pilate. More importantly, it's inaccurate. Sir Michael does not wash his hands, but, metaphorically, rolls up his sleeves and recruits staff who share his values. I've seen exactly the same approach recently in a primary school in the East End, and we need it in all others. Negative attitudes are not allowed through the school gates.  

Imagining Michael Gove's Guardian critic receiving the treatment she describes at Mossbourne or another Ark academy is difficult, but it is perfectly certain that the pupil would have been going home very late that night, and probably every night that week, would have been put in a position where he could not disrupt the work of others, and would not have had a phone to ring his mum.  If his behaviour were really beyond his control, he would be placed in a nurture group where demands would be matched to his needs and abilities.

With the exception of teachers' pay and conditions, over which she has a perfect right to fight her members' corner, Dr Bousted's outraged rhetoric is a smokescreen.  Ebac, which she attacks for depriving pupils of opportunity, in fact saved for most the opportunity to learn a foreign language and to develop an understanding of the world through history and geography. She did not mention the new criterion of eight subjects, used by Ofsted before 2005, that restores breadth.

Phonics, at which she took a sly dig, is the single part of government policy that is most strongly supported by research evidence, as she is in a position to know if she has read the research. The "teachers" Michael Gove is supposed to have attacked are in fact the Marxists and left-leaning theorists exposed in this column last week, with a tiny minority of real teachers who go along with them and control unions and quangos.

Dr Bousted knows this too, and knows that the academy and free school movement, started by Labour and further endorsed by Blair himself last week, is designed to bring about a fundamental change in values in education that will move it away from the Leftist, social-determinist perspective and into line with the core values of British society. She spoke of the charge of the light brigade...

Cannon  to the right of them,

Cannon  to the left of them,

Cannon in front of them...

but here she was at her most demonstrably inaccurate. All of the cannon are to the Left.

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